JOHANNESBURG – Baboons, it seems, prefer pinot noir. They also like a nice chardonnay.

Largely undeterred by electric fences, hundreds of wild baboons in South Africa’s prized wine country are finding the vineyards of ripe, succulent grapes to be an “absolute bonanza,” said Justin O’Riain of the University of Cape Town. Winemakers have resorted to using noisemakers and rubber snakes to try to drive the baboons off during harvest season.

“The poor baboons are driven to distraction,” said O’Riain, who works in the university’s Baboon Research Unit.”As far as baboons are concerned, the combination of starch and sugar is very attractive — and that’s your basic grape.”

Growers say the picky primates are partial to sweet pinot noir grapes, adding to the winemakers’ woe: Pinot noir sells for more than the average merlot or cabernet sauvignon.

“They choose the nicest bunches, and you will see the ones they leave on the ground. If you taste them, they are sour,” said Francois van Vuuren, farm manager at La Terra de Luc vineyards, 50 miles east of Cape Town.

Baboons have raided South Africa’s vineyards in the past, but farmers say this year is worse than previous ones because the primates have lost their usual foraging areas due to wildfires and the ongoing expansion of grape-growing areas.

Out of a 12-ton harvest, 1,100 to 1,300 pounds go to waste at La Terra de Luc because of the baboons. In the Constantia wine-producing area alone, up to $34,800 worth of the crop has been lost annually in previous years, according to the Baboon Research Unit.

One farm, La Petite Ferme, was hit particularly hard after fires in the Franschhoek wine-producing region devastated large swaths of land. The primates then descended on its chardonnay crop, eating or destroying up to three tons of grapes.

La Petite Ferme usually produces 12 to 15 barrels of chardonnay a year, but this season only managed to produce three.